• October 2020
  • Vol. 21, No. 7

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Evaluating Options for Investing in High-Quality Legal Representation in California

The American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law designed an assessment to provide child welfare stakeholders with information about federal funding changes that effect high-quality representation for children and families involved with the child welfare system. The assessment specifically focuses on factors typically associated with high-quality legal representation, such as caseloads, adequate staffing, workload, time management, training and experience, out-of-court advocacy, and interdisciplinary models of practice.

The assessment comprised three sites in California: a large, mostly urban county with an increase in funding; a large, mostly suburban county with a decrease in funding; and a small, mostly rural county with a decrease in funding. The study included activities between fiscal year 2017 and 2018.

The key findings of the assessment include the following:

  • Funding changes for child and parent legal representation had a direct impact on several factors that affect legal representation quality, such as attorney recruitment and retention, multidisciplinary legal practice, caseloads, workload per case, and case delays.
  • In addition to attorney funding, other child welfare system factors, such as policy, court funding and structure, and client access to services, influenced the quality of child and parent legal representation. 
  • Factors outside the child welfare system, including homelessness and poverty, also affected the quality of legal representation available to children and parents. 

The assessment provided the following recommendations for stakeholders:

  • Ensure attorney funding includes staffing and time requirements to meet the demands of each case and improve outcomes for parents and children.
  • Understand and address potential influences within the child welfare system (both the agency and judicial processes) on quality legal representation that exist outside attorney funding, including petition filing, court funding, hearing delays, and the ability of clients to access needed services and supports.
  • Understand and address potential influences on representation quality that exist outside the context of the child welfare system, such as transportation costs, housing access, and immigration status.
  • Improve and refine data management systems to track important variables to better assess the quality of legal representation and case functioning.

Watch the recorded webinar "Money Matters: How Funding Changes Affect Legal Representation Quality for Children and Parents" to learn more about the assessment findings and how to use the assessment when pursuing funding for dependency counsel as well as advocating for greater investments in child and parent counsel.

This assessment can help stakeholders make important decisions about how to leverage new federal funding and existing resources to make available high-quality legal representation for children and families.


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